Monday, July 19, 2010


The Pilgrims (who were once on Cape Cod) would have taken a dim view of lying in a hammock like I was. "What doth thee think thou art doing, Brother Harold?" Cotton Mather might have asked, hands on his hips. "Watching the nuthatches," I would have explained. "They're like little boats, cruising up and down the tree trunks, like they're on wooden rivers. They even sound like boats, with that 'ank, ank, ank' of theirs..." Cotton wouldn't have been amused.
The devil's workshop, he probably would have thought with disdain. And maybe so, if the devil is in the details.

Summer is unique that way. A plethora of details, and ample time to notice them, from a hammock or maybe a kettle pond on a July afternoon. Our friends Judith and Daniel and their son Jesse are well acquainted with these glacial, rain- or spring-filled ponds around Wellfleet. They took us to one yesterday called Dyer Pond. Getting there requires a drive along a rutted road through a scrub woods. Then you walk down a fire trail until the pond comes into view. And welcomes you in.

I'm no swimmer, but I know what I like. A freshwater pond, surrounded by woods, mostly blue sky above. Just under warm wading in, then the whole cool-skinned embrace of the water as it decides to accept you. Then comes the look-at-me-I'm-swimming backstroke and the oops-I'm-almost-drowning sidestroke back to where your feet can touch the bottom. Then about a half hour of what I call dragonflying.

Along the shore, a few trees projected outward and low, a yard or so above the water—rough-barked conifers as well as smooth-trunked deciduous trees stripped of their bark. They formed cool glades to glide through like a stealthy crocodile, a nearsighted crocodile who would slue up to the trunk and peer at a large pond spider until it became aware it was being peered at and vanish. Or extend a finger to touch a bead of resin among the shingled pine cones, whose stickiness the water would not defy. But most particularly, the nearsighted crocodile would slide among the long, spearlike, tubular pond grasses and get as close as he was able to the dragonflies and damselflies.

The damselflies adhered to the grasses like pennons to a halyard, their wings straight along their trainlike bodies. They were electric blue or violet and would lift off when approached, but soon resettled. In fact, the crocodile saw there were a dozen of them attached, straight and blue and fading to blurs. In addition, there were ruby-red dragonflies, bigger by far and higher up on the grass blades, like pilots inspecting the surface for snags. Their pairs of wings lay flat and perpendicular, as if an older technology than the sleek darners. The nearsighted crocodile lifted his hand to see if he might be able to touch the red dragonfly. Then he thought better of it. Watching was enough and being paid the mutual respect of the dragonfly remaining at its pilothouse, unbothered by the crocodile's proximity. So he put himself into reverse and backed glidingly away from the dragonfly, the grasses, and the damselflies, letting the details merge into one big green and blue watercolor.

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